Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Stroller. Saunterer. Loafer. Loiterer.

Baudelaire, who is largely credited with propelling the term into contemporary vernacular, defines it as such: "a person who walks the city in order to experience it."

This, my dear readers, is me on my day off.

Was in one of my literature classes when the word made its appearance on my verbiage-radar. The professor was talking of Baudelaire's poetry, and the "Modernist" literary movements (an ad nauseam topic for me at this stage of the educational game) elucidating on the character archetypes regularly discussed in the pieces we'll be covering. Flaneur is one of them.

The character in Baudelaire's poetry is not just a disengaged cynical voyeur, vicariously living life through the vibrancy of the city by participating in it as its audience, but also something of... a lady's man. That is to say, an appreciator of women, in all their myriad forms of beauty, from tramp to trophy wife.

As I researched the term, the meaning expanded into part of the urban phenomenon that happened at the time the word came into useage by literary Modernism. It became something of an occupation in the city for an artist. The position of observant-participant, taking creative inspiration from what is found on the streets and alleyways, between tall buildings and balanced along power-lines.

What a flaneur does is engage with the city by exploring it, by watching it, by using the aesthetic impetus it provides to fuel their art.

And this is definitely something I can relate to.

1. I am an urban-exploration enthusiast as well as dedicated wanderer, rambler, and troubadourian people-watcher
2. I often make cynical or passionate observations about what I see
3. I frequently admire women

4. I use all of it as material to shape my art

Discovering that things I thought of and did as ways to pass the time/waste the time are part of a literary-cultural phenomenon from the turn of the century is somehow... amazing.

Especially since I learned this in school, of all places.


I know I've been putting a lot of Baudelaire in here recently, which I blame partly because he's the current author/subject in my lit-class. So, to make up for it, I give you:

Dramatic Chipmunk.

4 footnotes:

Melanie's Randomness said...

I've never heard the term flaneur or about Baudelaire. I love watching people walk by, especially in the mall or in NYC.
Very intersting...My lit classes were always so boring, like just talking about who the characters were. Good luck with that class!!

Love the chipmunk! =)

FunkyStarkitty50 said...

This is my first time hearing of flaneur and the writer Baudelaire. The majority of my lit classes in my undergrad experience have been either focusing on female authors, Black authors, or Black female authors. With it being a predom. Black and female school, it figures. I've always wanted the ability to people watch, but I'm so in my head, that I mostly ignore everyone around me. Great post and I want that chipmunk--as a gift for my cats, of course.

Anonymous said...

you'd love my art theory classes.

Zek J Evets said...

@melanie: yeah, most of my lit classes are boring as well. but thanks for the well-wishes! and glad you enjoyed the chipmunk.

@funky: i imagine coming from an educational background like that must make you feel similar to people who are home-schooled or religiously schooled. each is a different experience, and focuses on different things. baudelaire is probably not something most people would want to teach, since he's a little indulgently sexual. in this case, we only spent time looking at two of his poems as a precursor to modernist literature.

people-watching is easy! all you need to do is look around.

@goldforever: you think?

iunno... i have a lot of problems with "art" as it is currently defined in western society, especially in visual arts such as, painting, drawing, sculpting, and performance art.

art theory is aestheticism without the credentials of oscar wilde or pater to back it up. it's so completely contrived; based on individual's opinions that it isn't worth my time as a class. i'd rather just talk casually with people about it, rather than pay to be "instructed" on critical opinion of art.

but thanks for the suggestion.